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1. The Mental Health Paradox

What it is: Studies from Behaviour Research and Therapy and BMJ Mental Health suggest that some programs designed to help teens improve their mental health are making it worse.
Why it isn’t working: An op-ed in the New York Times suggests three possible reasons: first, focusing teens’ attention on mental health issues, even to help them cope, can contribute to “prevalence inflation,” making teens more likely to frame normal life struggles in terms of mental illnesses in ways that can become self-fulfilling. Second, the sort of mindfulness-based content included in some such programs just doesn’t fit well in many school environments, which often emphasize achievement and performance. And third, it’s possible that what’s needed to make a real difference in mental health is more than what can be covered in a seminar—for example, getting over anxiety can require voluntary exposure to the things we are anxious about, often with support from a dedicated therapist. The intention of these sorts of interventions is obviously good—but the research suggests that good intentions aren’t always enough.
Start the conversation: Where’s the line between de-stigmatizing mental health issues and talking about them so much that we make them worse?

2. Everyone Buying Everything

What it is: Consumerism is alive and well in the U.S., even with rising product costs due to inflation—and TikTok has a big part to play.
What’s going on here: TikTok Shop now brokers $7 million dollars a day in U.S. product sales. Seeing the same product recommended by several different influencers in a single FYP-binge can help persuade some users to buy whatever is being sold. Jaimie Ding, writing for the Los Angeles Times (paywall), says, “Repetition as a promotional strategy is nothing new. But on TikTok Shop it feels like a form of psychological warfare. I’m losing the battle—or at least my credit card is.” TikTok Shop’s “buy now, think later” structure leans on the dopamine-burst nature of interacting with content to hook users into shelling out for whatever’s trendy. The BBC also reports that “younger, upper-middle class” are leading the charge on what they call “YOLO Spending,” which some speculate could reflect a desire to enjoy the present amidst fears of an unknown future.
Start the conversation: How much of your TikTok feed would you say consists of influencers trying to sell you something?

3. A Charismatic Choice

What it is: The Oxford University Press has chosen “rizz” for their 2023 word of the year.
What it means: The word “rizz,” if you aren’t familiar, is essentially short for “charisma,” and is generally used to refer to someone with an ability to attract others through their sense of style, charm, or general attractiveness. Other contestants for word of the year were “Swiftie” (referring to a Taylor Swift fan), “situationship” (referring to a romantic relationship that hasn’t been clearly defined), and “prompt” (referring to instructions given to an AI program like ChatGPT). As per usual, now that the word “rizz” has been given so much attention, expect it to fall swiftly and completely out of use with everyone under 25.
Start the conversation: Do you think “rizz” deserves to be the word of the year? Why or why not?

Slang of the Week

“Erm”: Maybe one of the more self-explanatory slangs, “erm” is an interjection used to express hesitation or as a response to something annoying someone said or did. It serves double-duty as a vocal-filler and a response. It’s not really new, but it’s been seeing a resurgence as vernacular with content creators, which, in turn, has trickled down to their audiences. To see some members of Gen Alpha explain “erm” and other slang, check out this TikTok by Nicole Pellegrino.

Translation: Hallmark Christmas Movies

For many people, this time of year is marked not only by trimming the tree and shopping for gifts, but by settling down to watch a story where a woman who’s forgotten about Christmas falls in love with a flannel-clad, Christmas-loving hunk from her small town (who may or may not actually be Santa)). We’re talking, of course, about Hallmark Christmas movies.

There’s plenty to be said about the potential issues with Hallmark movies. From a filmmaking perspective, they’re not going to win any awards for screenwriting or cinematography. In terms of moral edification, they don’t exactly depict the complex joys and sorrows of human relationships (which for a lot of viewers is exactly what makes them appealing). But the Hallmark commitment to fluff plots and characters also has a tendency to leak into how Christmas itself is interpreted: not as a sacred holiday, but as a time for feeling good, being kind, and above all, falling in love.

People everywhere are desperately searching for a reason to celebrate at this time of year, and as Christians we have the honor of knowing where the party is. The Hallmark-ified version of Christmas presents a soft, sentimental reason for hope—and a vision of a world that is kind, beautiful, and forgiving in the midst of one that is so often decidedly not. But the Christmas promise is that and more, and real. It may not come with a kiss under the mistletoe from a dreamy quasi-British Christmas prince, but it opens the doors for the story of a different prince: the newborn Prince of Peace.

For a more in-depth conversation about Hallmark Christmas movies and their effect on the Christmas season, check out this Wednesday’s Deep Dive on our Culture Translator podcast. In the meantime, here are some questions to kick off conversations with your teens:

  • Do you like Hallmark movies? Why or why not?
  • What do you think people are looking for at Christmas? Where do they go to find it?
  • Do you think Christmas might make people more curious about the gospel?